What greater praise can an author give a book than to say “This is the book I wish I’d written!”? That’s the praise I heap onto Marion Roach Smith’s book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-standardized Text for Writing & Life. How can I count the ways I admire this book? I’ll list a few:
1) She had me laughing the whole way through. Her rainbow of material covers the tragi-comic spectrum, but even the tragic has an amusing twist. I adore her off-the-wall humor and perspective. She nudges me to look at life from even more corners.
2) She walks her talk. She constantly illustrates her key point of writing with intention (that being focus at the closest range) by using short annotated clips of her own material. Many of these are items that have never fit anywhere else and finally found a home in this volume. Quite amazingly, she sticks to the point so tightly that she covers her material a mere 112 power-packed pages.
She also holds to a a primary tenet of memoir by closely framing her material and not attempting to cover the full gamut of all aspects of the writing process. She sticks to finding your story and framing it sparely, making every word count.
3) She brings fresh perspective to key points I hold dear. We both urge people to use small cards to collect story ideas. We both urge all writers to carry writer’s notebooks to record those ephemeral observations, thoughts and other gifts of the muse that are fragile and fleeting as soap bubbles. We both firmly hold the belief that there is no right way to write, although she’s a bit firmer on urging people to stay in one place and I tend to wander.
4) She has cleverly disguised a memoir. In my opinion, this book is at least as much memoir as instruction. It’s an ideal combination of using snips of life experience to illustrate writing principles. Her entire approach simply oozes with creativity.
5) She eschews writing prompts. I always read and admire then in other books, but use them only when they ring my bell to write something real. But wait. I do benefit from briefly considering whether they work for me. So I’ll stick with Write now: prompts on at the end of each post on this blog. I’m quite sure most readers use them as thought ticklers and suggestions and seldom actually write.
6) “What’s this about?” I can’t cite a page or copy in a quote, but this key question seems to permeate the material and is a key take-away focus for me. It’s not a new idea. I’ve included some version of this concept in a pile of previous posts. But the fresh emphasis is timely and the key to the tight focus she propounds.
I initially waited months after requesting a copy of this book from the county library system. When it finally arrived, I read a couple of chapters, then returned it and ordered my own print copy. This is a book I want to refer back to. It’s a book I want to wave in front of groups and quote from. It’s soft and feels good in my hands.
In the final analysis, I realize our two books complement one another well. We take rather different perspectives and cover different ranges of material. On balance, hers has more heart focus, mine more craft. So I suggest that if you already have a copy of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, you absolutely want to place The Memoir Project on the shelf right next to it. If you don’t have either one, order both!
Write now: leave a comment if you’ve read this book and tell us what you especially like about it. Or write a comment about how you use scraps and snippets of memory that don’t fit longer stories. Write a vignette about such a memory.